Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Valley Boys

The Flying Burrito Bros. were, in essence, a Valley band, though Gram Parker was from Florida and Chris Hillman was from San Diego. Nonetheless, their success stemmed from out of the Valley. But what about the real Valley bands? And there are plenty if we'd add on the three-car garage bands of the new millennium; for me, I'll just mention two from the 60s, The Leaves and The Electric Prunes. The Leaves had one big hit with "Hey Joe" in 1966. Formed in 1964 by Jim Pons and Robert Lee Reiner while attending Cal State Northridge, and fueled by Cupid's chili dogs, here was a duo who decided to become a band long before they knew how to play their instruments. Originally called the Rockwells, the pair recruited other Valley boys and soon they were playing surf covers at local dances. And how about this, their first gig was alongside Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band! Their big hit, "Hey Joe," the same song Jimi Hendrix would cover years later, led to their becoming the house band at the former Ciro's nightclub (today the Comedy Store), then called It's Boss. It's Boss was a teen club that featured the Byrds until they hit the charts. The Leaves song, though monumental in establishing psychedelia and even punk music, didn't generate sales enough to support the band and in 1967, Pons left for  The Turtles and ultimately joined up with Frank Zappa.

The Electric Prunes were Taft High School students in Woodland Hills. Taft may be responsible for more rock stars than any single high school, with notables like Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos, Steve Bartek from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Phil Buckman from Filter, Everlast and Ice Cube. If you want to include the Bradys, add Maureen McCormick and Susan Olsen – never mind. The Electric Prunes included James Lowe and Mark Tulin who recruited local friends and through a real estate agent (only in California), the boys met sound engineer Dave Hassinger who worked with The Rolling Stones on Aftermath. While their initial work together was unsuccessful, Reprise Records picked up the band and in less than a year, they recorded "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night." Of course, the song's bombastic reverb was a studio trick that just kind of happened. James Lowe remembers: "Dave cued up a tape and didn't hit 'record,' and the playback in the studio was way up: ear-shattering vibrating jet guitar. Ken had been shaking his Bigsby Wiggle-stock with some fuzztone and tremolo at the end of the tape. Forward it was cool. Backward it was amazing. I ran into the control room and said, 'What was that?'" That crazy tremolo buzz sound was utilized for the track, which also included a heavily-textured psychedelic guitar. The song peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number 49 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

There's a whole other edition to the Electric Prunes saga, but nothing can compare to that one great psychedelic anthem. 

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